Looking to join a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture vs. Customer Supported Aggregators

Greetings, eaters in the DC/MD/VA region.

First and foremost, pat yourself on the back for seeking real, whole foods from local farms. Life is busy. Cheap, already-cooked, fast food is hurled at you through advertising campaigns and made convenient with locations and hours of operation that fit every human being’s schedule. Not to mention, many of us have been trained to this mistaken mantra that “organic food is just too expensive” but, alas, YOU are searching for farm fresh produce, environmentally and ethically sound meats, and farmers you can trust.

Perhaps you long for an experience you had as a child or in another country: a bustling marketplace you visit daily, where you can buy fruit from a farmer, bread from a baker and experience a vibrant, healthy community. Perhaps you or a member of your family are facing a health hurdle, allergy or food intolerance or a heightened awareness of the industrialized food system that has led you to seek the cleanest, greenest ingredients.

There are a few Farmers’ Markets near you. The one on Saturday mornings sounds great, if you can fit it in around other commitments. But then again, your window to shop is Sunday mornings, so you can do meal prep for the week before it starts. So now what? You’ve Googled. You are facing a couple of choices.

There are a bunch of listings for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Programs. They sound like a no-brainer. You invest in the farm and farmers early in the spring and then every week, voila! Amazing, real food for you all season. Just pick your pick-up location, day, and time window and plan to be there every week. Yes, you totally want this. All your friends talk about being part of a CSA. You’re sold.

The season finally arrives and the adventure begins. You are overwhelmed by how fresh and flavorful salad greens can be. You see droplets of water on the Swiss chard not because of an overhead mister, but because it was just harvested and washed moments ago. You see something unusual, turnip-like… “Wow. This rich, purple and green thing is beautiful. I’m not entirely sure what it is…”

And there you are: an official CSA member. This is the first of several new vegetables you will encounter on this journey. Will you:

  1. Embrace exactly what you signed up for: seasonal vegetables. A spring full of greens. A summer full of squash. tomatoes and peppers (and canning and preserving). A perplexing “purple rocket thing,” aka kohlrabi. A stockpile of starches come fall. You have now been transported to the eating experience of your ancestors. You get what you get, when you get it, based on the region you live in. Your offspring resist but you persist! You learn how to make ten different things with one vegetable. You got to the Farmers’ Market or grocery store too, for all the other things you like to eat and additional ingredients. You find yourself spending a lot more time in the kitchen and you like it. Sure, you feel genuine disappointment when strawberry season comes to an end, but then you see blueberries, then blackberries, then you learn to “flash freeze” or make jam…

    OR
  2. Look at that kohlrabi, three weeks later, defeated and perishing in your crisper [sigh] and wonder if there is a way to buy local produce, just the stuff you know you like, without having to budget time to visit a farm. Google, again. There it is: “Local, delivery, fresh, from the farm, buzzword and another buzzword, and avocados. Put it in the cart. All these things. Click. Winner winner chicken dinner. This is perfect for you.

    There is, of course, no right or wrong answer. There is always grey area. This is a blog and these are just my thoughts.

    If you choose option 1, me and you (or parallel versions of us) are probably already acquainted. Your kids have a favorite chicken or goat at our farm. I’ve worked with your daughter on her Girl Scout Silver Award. You’ve gone ahead and explained kohlrabi to a newer CSA member on our Facebook page. You were completely cool and understanding during our egg shortage because you saw us upset after losing 40 hens in the middle of an afternoon to someone’s perfectly sweet dogs who were just following their instinct and the pack. You’ve taught me that a simple vinegar can transform my salad dressing. You’ve brought your in-laws by more than once. Your teenager is the only teenager I have ever met who asks for gherkins. We have genuinely missed seeing each other over the winter.This is Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a direct exchange and relationship between the eater and the farmer. There is no middle man – we are meeting in the middle. We see one another through peaceful smiles amid free-ranging children and know how hard the other one has to work to be right there at CSA pick-up at that time every week. The chaos melts. We did it. We are doing something right for the week, the earth, the next generation.

    So what about option 2? It may very well be perfect for you and that’s completely okay. [Note: I adore Washington Green Grocer] BUT this cannot and should not be called Community Supported Agriculture. I can’t help but call it “Customer Supported Aggregation” and I fear that sounds worse than I intend it to. Farmers are getting paid in the exchange, albeit wholesale, and lots of farmers love wholesale and sell only that way.

    Furthermore, these custom grocery deliverers are filling a gap in the market that none of us farmers have the ability to do: Bring everything we grow plus other groceries directly to the doors of everyone who wants to support us. When would we farm? What I mean is, a farm can’t compete with that level of convenience and that’s okay. Apples to oranges.

    What I’m trying to say, in yet another op-ed blog-ish post, is that the acronym “CSA” shouldn’t be thrown around willy-nilly by an online grocery provider or subscriber. Doing so deeply diminishes the beautiful commitment and relationship between members and farmers.

    A CSA member doesn’t just support their farm by their purchase, they support it by prioritizing it.

    So THANK YOU, CSA members, for meeting us in the middle. And high-five to the rest of you conscious eaters who are using a local delivery service. Life is busy, no judgment here. Just don’t call it a CSA.

Rainy Sunday, Back to the Blog

It has been 4 years since I’ve posted here – and wow! it has flown by. While I have achieved much of what I set out for in 2010 when I first met Deb, I’ve learned that this is a life-long journey and one that is much more successful when it is shared and cherished. It is amazing to reflect on the past decade. I am now working exactly where I wanted to be in 2010 – on farms, food service, farmers’ markets, and local food policy. And yet, there is still so much more to learn and do. What we’ve realized is that our quest for learning and for tackling environmental challenges has only intensified since we first started blogging. So, we are back!

I am glad to be on the journey with you!

Meeting Michael Pollan

POLLA3_130425_346On April 25th, my parents, who live in Arlington, Virginia, invited Jen and I over for a home-cooked family meal inside the tiny window of time after a work day and before we were headed to the heart of Washington, D.C. to hear Michael Pollan speak about his newest book, ‘COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation.‘ Even with the wealth of farm-to-table restaurants in the city, many of their kitchens stocked with products grown and raised by close friends, we felt that the best way to honor the movement and the debut of the new book was to celebrate it quietly at home. And then chase down Michael Pollan with a Willowsford Farm gift bag and our cameras ready to shoot.

Over vegetarian lasagna, greens, and strawberry shortcake served on fresh baked biscuits, we talked about the season to come, about the 8 lbs. sweet potato my parents grew in their backyard garden last year and how we hope to beat their record at the farm this year, and what to write in the card we were slipping in the bag for “MP.”

Then something magical happened. For the first time in my “Pollanated” career, I realized we were going to be late to a Michael Pollan talk. Instead of flying out the door, however, we picked up our plates, double checked our will-call receipts and watched Jen take an extra moment to thank my parents for the meal. Sure, I still kind of rushed us out the door, but being a little bit late because we are busy farmers committed to family meals felt perfectly reasonable. It felt like Michael Pollan would completely forgive our tardiness.

As always, the talk was inspirational and articulated every thought, feeling and goal inside each one of us fighting to regain our connections with nature, the food chain, meal time, and our role as chefs in our own health and destiny.

Pollan referred to the family meal as “the nursery of democracy,” a time when we learn to take turns at the favorite parts of a roast chicken with our siblings, give guests first dibs at the homemade whipped cream for strawberry shortcake, and take back this activity and time from a world perhaps too populated with convenience and choice. He discussed the history, and interesting timing, of the ready-made, frozen meal in combination with the growth of dual-income and dual-career households and in doing so, reminded me of how many “food-like substances” have fueled so many of us along the way. Who hasn’t grabbed a bite of something from the convenience store at a gas station or hurried through a sandwich over the kitchen sink so that they could use that time for a different form of personal enrichment? Heck, even farmers order pizza once in a while.

But on the beautifully bright side, this has led many of us to a place where each meal cooked at home, shared with family and in our case, farm-ily as well, feels like a treat, like a special occasion. Although I long for weeks, months and years when it is simply part of the daily routine of life, I’m more than happy to invest extra time in Willowsford Farm and fields to ensure that our CSA members and Farm Stand shoppers have rich, diverse meals that are good for them and grown via practices that the author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” would be proud of. And lucky for us, as the bounty of the season is growing all around us, it’ll once again be easy to refuel with fresh peppers, tomatoes, and greens throughout the days and roast, stir fry and grill in the evenings.

Chesapeake Compost Works Now Accepting Orders

The remarkable team behind Chesapeake Compost Works just announced that they are open for orders of their first batches of product. Way to go, guys!!

Email them (info@chesapeakecompost.com) with the product you want, the quantity you want, and your zip code and they’ll give you a quote.

Chesapeake Compost: Our original 100% multi-purpose compost, made from recycled brush, garden trimmings, and food scraps.  $32 per cubic yard plus tax and delivery charge, $28 per cubic yard for orders of 10 cubic yards or more.

Chesapeake Garden Mix: A 80% / 20% blend of Chesapeake Compost and fine sand, perfect for raised beds and other plantings where you are planting directly into this soil.  Holds water and has a rich, soil texture.  $37 per cubic yard plus tax and delivery charge, $34 per cubic yard for orders of 10 cubic yards or more.

Chesapeake Topsoil: A 50% / 50% blend of Chesapeake Compost and fine sand, perfect for starting new grass plantings or rejuvenating distressed landscapes.  $40 per cubic yard plus tax and delivery, $37 per cubic yard for orders of 10 cubic yards or more.

Chesapeake Potting Soil: Our blend of Chesapeake Compost, spagnum peat moss, and vermiculite, designed to be light and airy yet hold water.  Perfect for starting seeds in flats, trays, or growing in pots.  Coming soon!

Chesapeake Sustainable Potting Soil: Our blend of Chesapeake Compost, coconut coir, and expanded rice hulls.  Made entirely of renewable materials.  Performs just as well as Chesapeake Potting Soil, perfect for starting seeds in flats, trays, or growing in pots.  Coming soon!

Chesapeake Rain Garden Mix: Blended to the specifications of Blue Water Baltimore, this mix is designed to let stormwater infiltrate the ground.  Blue Water Baltimore uses this mix to construct rain gardens throughout Baltimore.  Coming soon!

Chesapeake Castings: Worm castings made from red wiggler worms fed a diet of spent brewery grains and lettuce.  This super rich soil is used as a fertilizer to add life and nutrients to everything from your container garden to your farm.  Coming soon!

You know you’re ready for spring when…

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…you’re talking to your friends (and plants) about the “thigmo response.”

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…you’re nearing the end of cleaning jobs and getting creative.

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…things on the winter project list (operation organization aka chalkboard wall) are getting done!

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…you’re excited to start shoveling.

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…you’re so eager for new life around you, the smallest creature catches your eye.

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…you’re photographing that new little life around you so you can post it to various media and blog about it (because you are procrastinating on your succession plans).

Farm Crew Positions Open at Willowsford Farm

Farm July 2012Willowsford Farm is now hiring full-time farm crew members for the 2013 season.

Farm Crew is a paid, hourly position.  Crew is involved in all aspects of farm production: planting, cultivating, mulching, harvesting, washing and distributing produce, and caring for laying hens.

Work Experience/Skills Desired: One full season on a vegetable farm, or similar experience.  Other demonstrated skills or work ethic are considered.

Farm work is physically demanding and we work in all conditions: cold and wet and hot and humid.  A commitment to working hard, having fun, and getting the job done and done correctly required.

Educational opportunities: This is not an internship, but there is a lot to learn here for the interested crew member. Willowsford Farm is also a member of Chesapeake CRAFT, a series of farm tours, workshops, and potlucks – a lot of fun and an excellent opportunity to see how other farms do sustainable agriculture.

These are paid positions, $10/hour.  Housing is available.  The farm crew season is April – end of October.

Please submit resume and statement of interest to farm@willowsfordfarm.com or through our posting on Good Food Jobs.

DIY Celebration

Obviously, I’m a huge fan of growing and cooking food myself. Recently, I’ve also developed an interest in crafts- particularly knitting. I’ve now made a few scarfs and have my sights set on successfully completing a reusable bag made from plastic bags

One of the most fun aspects of my new hobby is how many other people I’ve found to be interested in DIY crafts. DIY is “do it yourself”, which according to wikipedia became trendy in the 1950s with an emergence of people undertaking home improvements and other small craft and construction projects as both a creative-recreational and cost-saving activity. Since starting to knit, and becoming aware of DIY projects, I realized how many other people I know are interested as well. What fun!

If you are thinking about starting a DIY project and learning new ideas about what you can build and make yourself, check out this great event in DC tomorrow at ACE Hardware.

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ROOTING DC: Saturday, Feb 23, 2013

Rooting DC is a free, all-day gardening forum that aims to provide education about food production and consumption, to cultivate health, and to preserve the environment from which we receive our nourishment. The program consists five tracks:

Start It – Gardening basics
Grow It – Honing skills, workshops and container gardening tips
Eat It – Cooking and food preservation
Teach It – Learn how to share your knowledge
The Big Picture – Growing into the broader landscape of food

Hope to see you there! Here are the conference details:

Where: Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW
When: Saturday. February 23rd 9:30am – 4:30pm (Doors open at 8:30am)
Registration: FREE – Register here

For additional information, check out the Rooting DC website.

 

Food and Farm Books to Pre-Order for 2013

As each chilly January day is ever-so-slightly longer than the last, I’ve found myself not only counting down the days until spring, but also the days until two incredible books publish and get into my library, mind and heart: Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Release date April 23, 2013), and Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (Release date May 21, 2013).

The Amazon.com summary of Pollan’s Cooked reveals that the book will explore the four classical elements of food and cooking – fire, water, air and earth – seemingly in the deep, co-evolutionary style of  The Botany of Desire. Pollan dedicates sections of the book and of himself to understanding the human relationship and dependence on the “primal magic” of fire, the “art of braising,” the transformation of grain and water into bread via air, and the genius of fermentation. All of which encourage we readers and food system reformers to continue our quest to bring our meals back to the basics.

“…Cooking, above all, connects us. The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume huge quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.”   – Amazon description

While I hope each year welcomes a little more kitchen and cooking time into my personal food journey, the heart of my education and energy takes place on the farm. Lucky for me and all my fellow farmer friends, Forrest Pritchard, author of Gaining Ground and pioneering farmer at Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville, Virginia, captures the spirit of those experiences and lessons in his blog posts and speaking engagements. Just this weekend, he ignited applause from an audience of farmers at the Future Harvest conference with a pivotal comment during the panel discussion “Down a New Path  – Stories of Change and Transition.”

“We could be considered niche farmers… Or we could be considered early adapters in a new paradigm.” – Forrest Pritchard

A recording of the discussion will be airing this week on the Marc Steiner Show and the Gaining Ground is set to be released May 21st. Until then, Pritchard and Smith Meadows’ free-range meats can be found at several DC, Maryland and Virginia farmers markets.